Warmest Wishes Advent 2018: Week 3

It's Week 3 of the Warmest Wishes Advent Stories! This week we're featuring stories from Anna Kaling, Cy Blanca, L.E. Franks, S.A. Stovall and Helena Stone!

ICYMI: Week 1 | Week 2

Tulsi Vivah by Anna Kaling

The festival of Tulsi Vivah ushers in the Hindu wedding season and tears away the love of Kristopher’s life. Three years of passion and tenderness are reduced to a shameful skeleton in the closet as Arjuna submits to the marriage his parents have arranged for him. His family has never even heard Kristopher’s name.

The festival, a ritualistic wedding between the holy basil plant, Tulsi, and her eternal lover, Vishnu, is as much of a play-act as Arjuna’s upcoming nuptials, but he believes the wedding will honor his parents and please Vishnu. So why is his Tulsi plant—whose leaves heal and bless the devout, who is Vishnu's representative on earth—dying? Arjuna tends to her with all the care of a concerned parent, but it might take more than his devotion to save her. She might need Kris, with his clever green-fingers—and maybe a revived Tulsi can heal two hearts.

Ann - 3.5 Hearts

I was immediately sucked into Tulsi Vivah and learned quite a bit about a religion and culture I know very little about. I would actually love to read this story as a full novel as there is a lot of nuance and balance I would love to explore with Arjuna and Kris. I spent the first half of the story irritated with Arjuna, even though I understood, it didn’t make me happy and I wanted more for Kris. And for Arjuna. There were a multitude of dynamics to explore and I would like more time reading through all of them. I mostly wanted a little more balance between happy Arjuna and Kris and the struggle they went through in the span of a short story.

Guess Who's Coming to Karamu by Cy Blanca

Grant Cary, a twenty-eight-year-old grad student, has let his Kwanzaa shopping go to the very last minute. In his rush to get home, he quite literally bumps into Will Sheritan, a fortysomething software developer, in the elevator. But luck favors (or curses) the adventurous, because their elevator shuts down due to a blackout. Grant and Will learn about each other’s pasts and find more than just a casual interest.

Will has never celebrated Kwanzaa, and he’s reluctant to enter into a relationship, but exploring a new tradition—with a new friend—might brighten his lonely holiday. And if Will accepts Grant’s invitation to join his family for the Karamu feast, Grant might get his Imani gift early.

Ann - 3 Hearts

The meet-cute set up in Guess Who’s Coming to Karamu was short story gold. I loved the beginning and the babbling stream of consciousness courtesy of Grant was fun to read. I was really looking forward to reading a story celebrating Kwanzaa and I wanted to learn from Grant. The thread got a bit lost and muddled as Grant and Will started conversing/flirting though. It didn’t flow as organically as I was expecting given the beginning and Grant’s personality. It felt like a real gamut of emotions were run in the brief time the two were trapped, more extreme than what I would think for two strangers, even if they were attracted to one another, so the ending felt abrupt rather than nuanced into a hopeful HFN.

Death to Christmas Sweaters by L.E. Franks

Chess and Benjamin are casual lovers, each hiding his devotion to the other and his wish for more. But Chess is a wealthy playboy who—Benjamin believes—will never settle down. And Chess is sure, with the way Benjamin keeps him at arm’s length, that he can’t be interested in getting serious.

They’re destined for a head-on collision as Chess plans for a holiday escape designed to send Benjamin’s ardor spiking like the temperatures in Los Angeles, while Benjamin desperately drags his feet, wanting to cool things down to protect his vulnerable heart. But when the ghosts of Chess’s Christmas past and Benjamin’s unwelcome present converge at LAX, it’s obvious there are other forces at play and about to take over.

R *A Reader Obsessed - 3 Hearts

If you like friends to lovers stories, then I don’t think many will find too much fault. As per the blurb, both Chess and Benjamin have been casually (but exclusively) hooking up with each other for months - both wanting more but both convinced the other doesn’t.

What this excels at is the descriptive writing in regards to the guys’ thoughts and what they admire and what they feel and what they do. *wink*

What this doesn’t succeed so well at is the choppy flow, nor the multitude of events and issues going on at the same time Chess and Benjamin are trying to work out their feelings.

Not the best in execution but still really feel good (please see above again why this excels) with a happy ending only the holidays can give a nudge to!

Ann - 3.5 Hearts

BFF’s with Benefits who finally figure it out is one of my favorite tropes and when it happens around the holidays it basically wraps my trope up with a big pretty bow. The family drama went in a different direction than I expected and I ended up really loving Chess’ family and it was a sweet twist that added a lot to the story and to my appreciation of Chess overall. I really felt for Benjamin and everything he kept bottled up and what that did to him and his ability to accept the happiness that was right in front of him. Chess seemed to be pretty open about his feelings, so the lack of communication was a little odd. It was one of those things that made sense if you didn’t think about it, but as soon as you do, you’re like “but whyyyyyy?”. It ends on a really hopeful note though and made me quite happy for both Chess and Benjamin.

Drawn into their respective family dramas at a joint gathering, will Chess and Benjamin finally take a stand for each other and the relationship they both want, or will the holiday finally take its toll?

The Night Sky Festival by S.A. Stovall

Photographer Zach is happy to pack up his gear and head to the Mojave Desert over the holidays. Ever since his ex-husband filed for divorce a day before Christmas, it’s safe to say this isn’t Zach’s favorite time of year.

Fortunately, he stumbles upon a town where the residents seem to agree. The good people of Baker would much rather celebrate the possibility of extraterrestrials as they dance under the stars in their unique “Night Sky Festival.” The locals are interesting, to say the least, and they want Zach to join them.

But is Zach ready to let go of his holiday bitterness? And if so, whose invitation should he accept: the cute cashier, the burly single dad, or the sexy fun-loving cop?

Ann - 2.5 Hearts

Zach the photographer is a pretty grumpy and unfriendly dude and the three gay men that he meets while in Baker on assignment weren’t fully fleshed out enough to be able to feel much for any of them beyond, “he seems nice”. It was pretty convenient when Zach chose his Night Sky partner he could shoo the other two off onto each other, which is a very romcom thing to assume that the only two (that we’re introduced to anyway) other gay men in town will be in to each other. There was no level of HFN or HEA achieved but I don’t think that was the point in Night Sky Festival. The four did seem to find some level of happiness for the evening at least and I suppose that’s a good thing.

Too Hot for Santa by Helena Stone

Jonah Walsh’s fledgling acting career in Dublin comes to an abrupt end when a video of him in a compromising position goes viral on social media. The offer of a part in a Christmas play in Sydney, Australia arrives at exactly the right time, although he isn’t sure about celebrating Christmas in the scorching heat. Nick Claseman isn’t happy that the actor he and his sister have hired will be occupying his granny flat. As for Jonah’s enthusiasm for Christmas, Nick doesn’t get it. He hasn’t decorated or celebrated in years.

When Jonah turns out to be anything but a stuck-up starlet with delusions of grandeur, and Nick proves he’s not usually grumpy and borderline hostile, the two men gravitate toward each other. Their attraction morphs into something more when Jonah reacquaints Nick with the pleasures of Christmas and Nick shows Jonah the beauty of Australia. But Jonah is only Down Under for a few months. It would take a Christmas miracle for them to have a future together.

Ann - 4 Hearts

Too Hot for Santa was a treat, and then some, to read. Nick does not come off well in the beginning and I was apprehensive of his unwarranted grinchy attitude, but it didn’t take long for him to redeem himself and become a character I wanted more of. Jonah is such a likable and genuine character you can’t help but like the guy and want all good things for him. I think what I appreciated most was that neither of them were perfect, they both had good intentions and they communicated well. They read like real and relatable people, so it was easy to connect with them. All of this added up to a story that flowed well and the relationship between Nick and Jonah moved along with no manufactured angst or miscommunication, a perfect formula for a short story. I’ll be happy to read this one again next holiday season.

Review copies were provided by the publisher in exchange for honest opinions.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for featuring the anthology and THANK YOU for the wonderful review.